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A Short History Of Myth

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  3,496 Ratings  ·  381 Reviews
'Human beings have always been mythmakers.' So begins Karen Armstrong's concise yet compelling investigation into myth. Myths have helped us to make sense of the universe since Palaeolithic times.
Paperback, 165 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Canongate Books (first published October 1st 2004)
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Riku Sayuj

Karen Armstrong attempts to take us through the story of how myth has evolved in human history, affected its progress, how the contemporary society deals with it and the future direction it might or should take. For such a vast scope, a book that is less than 200 pages was bound to end up with a sketch that is barely an outline, let alone a complete history.

For a student of myth, this cannot even serve as an introduction to the scope and breadth of the study of mythologies, but for the casual re
Dec 03, 2011 Brittany rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book began by making a sweeping, unfounded generalization, and then irritated the heck out of me.

That's not a great way for a book to start.

In fact, if I'd just been reading it for fun I would have been tempted to stop. But I'm determined to read all the Canongate Myths, and for whatever reason this one is listed first. And it's only 150 pages long so, I figured, how bad can it be?

It starts by stating categorically that humans are the only animals to have language, the think on a meta leve
Apr 18, 2014 Brock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's presently 2:14am and I've just completed Armstrong's book. While I'm unable to offer a lengthy, in-depth criticism of the text, I will say it's completely undeserving of the scathing reviews it's received.

These angry, angry reviewers seem to have lost their marbles for a couple of reasons:

1) They may have neglected the presence of the word "short" in the book's title. This is a primer, a brief overview. What were they expecting in this amount of pages? Armstrong makes religion and religiou
Aug 29, 2007 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some who are best at showing, and some that are best at telling. Karen Armstrong is best at telling. I really appreciate her lucid, straightforward narrative here, in such a huge, swimming subject. She rarely ever oversimplifies. It's like a little guidebook to western culture, and it often got me thinking about similarities between the role of myth and the role of art; I was a little surprised to see them converge so smartly at the end. The ending is more determined than I'd like it t ...more
A Short History of Myth lives up to its title but despite its brevity is well worth reading. It’s an extended introductory essay to the Canongate Myth series, several volumes of which I’ve read: Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, and A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarok, respectively, reinterpretations of The Odyssey, the Atlas myth, and the Viking Apocalypse.(1)

Armstrong asserts that myths are timeless stories that define what life is about. They answer questions such as why are we
The best of this is where she explains that myths have two lives. There is the myth as it is supposed to have happened once in historical time – Jesus at the last supper sharing his body and blood with his followers – and the myth that is forever present and forever made new – the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (and to many Christians, particularly those who believe in the literal transubstantiation of the bread and wine, this is the literal presence of Jesus today and always) is the forever ...more
Oct 19, 2012 Nikki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is interesting, although not exactly revelatory if you're interested in mythology and the like. I couldn't take it seriously after this section, though:

Why should a goddess have become so dominant in an aggressively male society? This may be due to an unconscious resentment of the female. The goddess of Catal Huyuk gives birth eternally, but her partner, the bull, must die. Hunters risked their lives to support their women and children. The guilt and anxiety induced by hunting, combined wit
I'll keep this short. This book is a fantastic mythology primer for:

A) Someone who's never read a single mythology book. Ever.
B) Anyone who finds Joseph Campbell too challenging
C) Those inclined to believe mythology can be explained by exactly one theory
D) All of the above

Jan 02, 2013 Pablo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Armstrong declares, unconvincingly, that historically believers haven’t taken their holy texts literally. Her argument is unconvincing because it’s demonstrably false. Islam, for example, has hundreds of millions of adherents who would declare her claim ridiculous and demonstrate their disagreement vehemently. Their mythology is so literal to them that many of them live a life that's more similar to their religion's 7th century origins than it is to the modern world.

Entire nations live under sys
Sedighe Vazehi
Jul 25, 2015 Sedighe Vazehi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
بیست دقیقه ريويو نوشتم، save نشد:/
تلاش مجدد نمیکنم
فقط اینکه هیچ کجای کتاب به تمدن های اولیه ی ایران اشاره نشده بود.
کتاب خوبی بود، خصوصا فصل آخرش.
Al Bità
Aug 31, 2010 Al Bità rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This short book is an attempt by Armstrong to reinstate a kind of appreciation of selected, mostly Western, myths after what she believes has been their modern discrediting by science. In doing so, Armstrong needs to strip the old myths of any historical relevance to reality to argue that they represent rather a kind of psychological reality and wisdom based on compassion, tolerance and understanding. The book ends with the hope that these virtues will survive through the work of artists, writer ...more
Feb 07, 2009 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ms Armstrong has written a brief summary of myth from the Paleothic period to modern day. I found her inclusion and description of different female deities enlightening. I also thought her summary of how science has underminded myth recently accurate. She argues that art in the 20th century has stepped up to fill some of the vacuum which has been created by the undermining of myth.

I include this lengthy quotation as an example:

We have seen that a myth could never be approached in a purely prof
Mar 20, 2013 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a Composition Instructor with a rhetorical background, I enjoyed this much. If the subtitle of Armstrong’s 'A Short History of Myth' had been ‘A Rhetorical Approach’, I think that would have been most fitting. The strongest case she makes is her focus of ‘mythos’ vs. ‘logos’ in the Axial Age (with a nod toward Aristotle’s Artistic Proofs as the framework for guiding the whole book’s structure). Specifically, her focus on outer vs. inner rituals (or the interplay between effective speech and w ...more
A rather nice overview. Armstrong tells things clearly and doesn't make the reader feel stupid. There is plently about myth connecting to religion, in particular how the age of Enlighment led to a reading of the Bible as truth, which Armstrong points out does a disservice to reliigon and myth. I found her idea about our age doing away with myth except in terms of literature to be interesting. She has a point, but the writers do carrry it. Perhaps we have just changed the nature of our myths - th ...more
Nicole Marble
We are treated to the standard litany of leftover Victorian 'thinkers' of dopey primitive people (our ancestors) being awestruck by the night sky, weather, seasons, birth, death, and the miracle of farming, which resulted in, ta da, myth and religion. Maybe.What she does not discuss is the manipulation of the tribe/city/group/country by the cult/religious leaders who create fear and lay down the rules that favor themselves.
However, she does make one interesting comment on religion as practiced t
Nov 14, 2013 Azy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
هرگز نمی توان به یک اسطوره از زاویه نظامی نزدیک شد. اسطوره تنها در یک بستر آئینی قابل درک بود که ان را از زندگی روزمره جدا می کرد. اسطوره را باید به عنوان بخشی از یک فرآیند تحول شخصی تجربه کرد. در حالیکه این ها در مورد رمان مصداق ندارد، زیرا می توان آان را همه جا و برکنار از دام های آئینی قرائت کرد. اما تجربه ی قرائت یک رمان کیفیت های معینی دارد که درک سنتی اسطوره را به یادمان می آورد. خوانندگان ناگزیرند روزها و حتی هفته ها با یک رمان زندگی کنند. آنها به خوبی می دانند که این قلمرو خیالی واقعی نی ...more
Khalid Almoghrabi
محتوى الكتاب جيد لمن يريد أن يعرف تاريخ مبسط للأسطورة في حياة الشعوب وتطورها ولمن قرأ لكارين ارمسترونج يعرف جدية هذه الباحثة ولكن تتوقع تحيللاً أعمق من هذا حين تقرأ أسم الباحثة الكبيرة عليه. وهو شيء تلاحظه في الفصل السابع الذي لذي تتحدث به عن الحضارة المعاصرة ودور الثورة العلمية والأدب في زحزحة الأسطورة من عقليات الشعوب.
الترجمة ممتازة ولا تخلو من أخطاء طباعية بسيطة جداً
نویسنده خیلی خوب سیر تحول اسطوره رو از ابتدای بشریت تا به امروز دنبال کرده و نقاط تحول اسطوره شناسی رو معرفی کرده... تو حجم کم کتاب اطلاعات خوب و جالب زیادی هست
از اسطوره شناسی ایرانی چیزی نگفته
Clif Hostetler
The first third of this book by Karen Armstrong overlaps much of the same material covered by Barbara J. King in her book Evolving God where she discusses the origins of religion from an anthropological point of view.
(link to my review of Evolving God.) King uses the word "religion" where Armstrong is using the word "myth." King used the word "belongingness" where Armstrong uses words such as "meaningfulness" to explain the human drive to create religion/myth. The following quotation of Karen A
Armstrong's book is indeed short. It's a small book and only 149 pages. I was able to read it in just three evenings in bed right before sleep. Armstrong's book is a mass market book. Which is fantastic, in that it's highly readable. However, the academic in me was on bullshit-alert throughout. There are very few citations in the book (108 endnotes over 149 pages). And as I read, I was a little anxious about the broad generalizations Armstrong was making that seemed (a) almost impossible to prov ...more
Catherine Austen
Dec 14, 2011 Catherine Austen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you think of this as an essay and NOT a history, it`s a very likeable book. It is beautifully written and full of interesting stuff that gets you thinking. I`d recommend it to anyone intererested in myth and the "nature of man" and such stuff.

But not so much to people interested in historical facts, as it makes huge sweeping statements based on a very narrow range of evidence. (What is the deal with social scientists? Are they overcompensating for the difficulty of testing their theories? Ph
Jul 10, 2016 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion-history
Armstrong’s style in this and many of her other books might come across as cold or dispassionate to those not familiar with who she is or her approach to these topics. For someone particularly sensitive to the types of myths she refers to in this short work, it might even be jarring to see her refer to some of the great religions of our own time in a way that she might even describe as coming from a place of “logos” vs. “mythos”. Her style is very academic, scientific, even though as other revie ...more
Dec 28, 2012 Asma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This nonfiction book chronologically presents mythmaking at different historical periods mostly in Western, Middle Eastern, and Asian societies, giving reasons for surges in newly created myths at times of potentially alienating, great changes:
"...the purpose of myth was to make people more fully conscious of the spiritual dimension,that surrounds them on all sides and was a natural part of life.
It covers a lot of time between the first Paleolithic hunter societies and Neolithic agricultural soc
Jun 03, 2015 Qasim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
الكاتبة جعلت الأديان تطوراً طبيعياً للأساطير وهذا نهج الملحدين عموماً، الأساطير في الحقيقة هي صورة مشوهة عن العقائد الدينية، ما يحدث هو أن أتباع الأنبياء تتراجع روحانيتهم بمرور الوقت بسبب بعدهم عن النبي المزكّي فتتشوه مفاهيمهم الدينية وتتحول إلى أساطير، إن تكرار الأسطورة نفسها في أدبيات أديان مختلفة لا يعني أن دين معين اختلس الأسطورة من دين آخر، بل يدلّ أن القصّة "التي تشوّهت فيما بعد إلى أسطورة" تم إيحاءها للأنبياء مراراً في أزمنة مختلفة، ويدلّ أيضاً أن مصدر الوحي واحد ولطالما أخطأ البشر فجعلوه ...more
Jan 08, 2017 Ghaliya rated it liked it
The aspect I found lacking in this book, that, the writing was dull a bit. I'm glad it was a short history or it would've turned densely dull.
But the content, is of great value and probes much contemplation.
Sep 26, 2013 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, reference
A slightly helpful book that, in a mere 150 pages or so, gives an overview of the role of myth in human existence. Slightly helpful in that, it does give the reader a sense of how myth has functioned, or not functioned, over the vast sweep of prehistory and history. It also makes the important point that mythos is not the same as logos--this is something that is very hard for us postmoderns, who are steeped in philosophical materialism, to understand.

Is the book overly simple? Yes. Would this wo
Jul 29, 2013 Shanthanu rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Given the ambition and scope that the title implies this was either going to be a masterpiece or fail disastrously. Unfortunately, Armstrong takes the "short" in the title quite literally — at less than 150 pages this book makes too many generalisations and patently false assertions to be taken seriously. For instance, her constantly repeated assertion that "Creation stories had never been regarded as historically accurate; their purpose was therapeutic" is never backed by references or sources ...more
This is exactly what the title says it is, a short history of myth. Karen Armstrong writes a sweeping overview of the history of myth and its role in helping humanity relate to the world. I've read it all before as I studied anthropology and religion, but it was a nice reminder of myth's history and why it is still important to us.

If you believe that the definition of myth is to describe something that is not true, then you are using the wrong definition. I like the definition Joseph Campbell g
Seth Mann
This short book is NOT an objective or academic exploration (or summary) of mythology. After racing through several millenia, the author decides to focus only on the West and the rise of the 3 monotheistic religions. Ultimately, it is revealed that the author has an agenda - to preach about how humanity has lost its way by abandoning myth (an assertion that I don't agree with and which this book makes very little convincing argument). The author suggests that the only way we regain what we've lo ...more
Apr 11, 2012 Erwin rated it did not like it
Chapters 2 through 6 are fairly readable, having some of the quality I know Karen Armstrong for. Chapters 1 and 7 run off a cliff. Simply put they are tirades against science. Chapter 7 is an absolute low point. Science is apparently the cause that the witch hunts couldn't be stopped by religious leaders. Excuse me? Newton was a fool, blind for everything outside science. Say what? Francis Bacon had no goal but to have science rid the world of religion. Did I read that right? Martin Luther was c ...more
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British author of numerous works on comparative religion.


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“We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a 'resource.' This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.” 37 likes
“We are meaning-seeking creatures. Dogs, as far as we know, do not agonise about the canine condition, worry about the plight of dogs in other parts of the world, or try to see their lives from a different perspective. But human beings fall easily into despair, and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting, that revealed an underlying pattern, and gave us a sense that, against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary, life had meaning and value” 21 likes
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